Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Letter to the NBA board of Governors from Save our Sonics...

Save Our Sonics released the following statement on Monday, February 25:

"We hope the Board of Governors, media and members of the national sports community read the attached information and carefully consider the ramifications of a potential SuperSonics move to Oklahoma City. The upcoming court case set for June is too important to hold a vote on this matter presently because the current ownership group will likely be forced to honor the last two years of its lease agreement with Key Arena. The BOG should vote "No" on the Sonics relocation or postpone a vote until the pending court case is resolved.

"In light of recent disheartening comments by Commissioner David Stern, the BOG is faced with an extremely important decision that not only affects millions of Seattle area residents, but stands to significantly change both the NBA and the entire professional sports landscape. Members of the Sonics ownership group must work with Seattle's city leadership to come forth with a reasonable plan for the future sustainability of Seattle Center, Key Arena and the Sonics."

Please direct any media inquiries to the contacts at the end of the letter, Adam Brown, Steven Pyeatt and Brian Robinson of Save Our Sonics.

To NBA team owners and vested interests:

Outlined herein are the five most compelling reasons why voting "Yes" on the Seattle SuperSonics relocation to Oklahoma City is the wrong decision for an NBA team owner. Please consider the following information and endorse a "No" vote on relocation this April.

The Sonics have represented the city of Seattle through the best of times − including a 1979 World Championship and success throughout the 1990s culminating in a 1996 Finals appearance − and also through the worst of times, which came under the last two ownership groups led by Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz and Oklahoma City mogul Clayton Bennett, respectively. As you are surely aware, Schultz sold the Sonics to Bennett's Oklahoma-based ownership group in July 2006. After only one year of attempting to secure a brand new, $500 million, state- of-the-art arena in the region, Bennett officially filed for relocation to Oklahoma City on November 1, 2007.

As an NBA team owner, you have a responsibility to make decisions that will ultimately lead to a thriving league for years to come. Unlike other leagues, the NBA's owners are closely connected through revenue streams that allow profitable markets to share the wealth. As primary decision makers in the league, your votes in this matter will have critical impact on the future economic growth of the NBA.

Fans have supported this organization for 41 years. It will be a devastating blow to both the city of Seattle and the entire NBA if we lose this prominent market for the following reasons:

1. Fan Support Determines a Sports League's Profits

Seattle has been one of the NBA's most celebrated markets since its inaugural year in 1967. By allowing this move, David Stern is disrespecting one of his most loyal fan bases and disregarding 41 years of local support for the league, opting instead to mortgage the future financial sustainability of the NBA in order to please his friend, Clay Bennett.

NBA fans in Seattle will obviously be crushed by the move, but the impact will ripple into other markets across the nation. Fans will wonder: If this can happen in an historic NBA market like Seattle, couldn't it happen to my favorite team as well?

Hoops fans across the nation will sense a widening disconnect from team ownership and become apathetic about supporting a league that could show such contempt for fans. This move would signify the beginning of the end for a fan's league. The NBA may not recover from such a massive public relations disaster, as the league has recently struggled to reconnect to fans the way it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

2. Seattle is the Gateway to the Surging Asian Market

One of the highest rated NBA games this season was between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets - or the matchup of Chinese superstars Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian. Commissioner Stern opened the revenue floodgates by pouring NBA marketing dollars into China, and the country responded with record interest in the league. In December 2007, more than 200 million Chinese tuned in to watch the battle of its homeland stars, as 16 of 19 Chinese television stations carried the live broadcast in mainland China. [1]

Seattle is a leading center of Asian culture in the United States, with more than 507,000 Asian citizens (14.4% of the population)[2] contributing to the area's booming business, engineering and technology industries. Why would the league choose to uproot one of its primary gateways to the blossoming Asian market?

Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners established the international sports business model by marketing its Japanese star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to national and international success, but the potential revenue ceiling in China is significantly higher if the NBA takes advantage of its cornerstone Asian market in Seattle.

The league certainly won't gain any international revenue from having a team in Oklahoma City.

3. Seattle is a Superior Market to Oklahoma City

The following statistics demonstrate the advanced revenue potential of the Seattle market compared with the Oklahoma City market:

o Greater Seattle: 3,524,000
o Greater OKC: 1,240,967

Median Family Income:[4]
o Seattle: $70,133
o OKC: $48,162

Seattle is consistently named as one of the best cities in America, and Forbes recently ranked it fourth among the Fastest Growing Cities in America,[5] with a 22.7% projected GMP growth by 2012. To abandon this market would be akin to moving the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers to smaller cities. The league simply wouldn't be the same, and David Stern has already stated that Seattle will not get another team if the Sonics move under Bennett.[6]

Journalists across the nation published their disapproval of losing the Seattle market, repeatedly coming to the conclusion that "there is no conceivable way the NBA would benefit from having the Sonics move from the nation's 14th-largest market to the 45th. [7]"

4. Fans in Seattle Deserve a Chance to Keep Their Team

Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma City-based ownership group purchased the Sonics with the full intention of moving the team to Oklahoma City, as stated publicly by minority owner Aubrey McLendon.[8] This contradicts numerous public statements made by Bennett stating his desire to find a solution to keep the team in Seattle.

""[Clay Bennett and I] didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle, we hoped to come here [to Oklahoma City]," McLendon told the Oklahoma City Journal Record in August 2007. "We know it's a little more difficult financially here in Oklahoma City, but we think it's great for the community and if we could break even we'd be thrilled."

The NBA and its team owners should not settle for "just breaking even." Commissioner Stern fined McLendon $250,000 for these comments, but even more telling are the other dealings of this ownership group since purchasing the Sonics.

While asking for $400 million from taxpayers to build an exclusive, world-class arena in Renton − a Seattle area suburb located 12 miles south of the city and its season ticketholder base − the Bennett ownership group repeatedly touted the economic and community benefits of having an NBA team in the region.

Bennett's group even conducted its own economic feasibility study to convince legislators to vote for its last-minute arena proposal.[9]

Unfortunately, the proposal did not receive a vote after Bennett refused to provide key financial details deemed necessary by the legislature. Unlike Blazers and Seahawks owner Paul Allen, Bennett's plan did not include any stated investment from the team itself, leaving a huge gap in the feasibility of the proposal. Bennett then filed for relocation with the NBA, attempting to void the final two years of the team's lease at Seattle Center's Key Arena, which runs through 2010.

The city of Seattle filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Bennett in order to hold him to the Key Arena lease, and Bennett's group contradicted itself yet again in court, stating: "There will be no net economic loss if the Sonics leave Seattle."[10] Which is it, Clay?

The NBA should not look kindly upon one of its owners stating that its teams have no benefit to local communities.

While the Sonics current home, Key Arena, is the league's smallest venue, the city has expressed interest in re-working the terms of the lease and expanding the building to become a world-class venue. The city built Key Arena for $104 million in 1994 with 80% taxpayer-appropriated funds, following guidelines specifically approved by the NBA and team officials in the Ackerley ownership group, which said "[Key Arena] is going to be as good as any building in the NBA." And it was - for a few years, while the team perennially finished at the top of the Western Conference in front of sold out home crowds. [11]

It is simply unfortunate timing that other cities began building huge, more advanced arenas such as Chicago's United Center and Denver's Pepsi Center shortly thereafter, putting Key Arena behind the curve almost immediately after its construction. These and other new world-class arenas, however, were built using private funds or as a partnership between ownership and the city - something Bennett has declined to approach.

Despite the city's numerous attempts to reach out to Sonics ownership and broker a deal that works to keep the Sonics in Seattle, Bennett refused to even meet with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels regarding any plan besides his own.

Adding insult to injury, Bennett & Co. decimated the Sonics chances to be successful on the court by trading its two All-Star players, fan favorites Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. These moves effectively ensured the team would be terrible, driving local fans out of the arena, intentionally minimizing revenues to facilitate relocation and making a mockery of the team. In 2007, Bennett's group fired Sonics legends Lenny Wilkins, Jack Sikma and Detlef Schrempf from their positions with the team, further distancing the current organization from anything that could be considered part of the Sonics celebrated past.

"They didn't give it a chance," former Sonic and current Celtic Ray Allen told the Chicago Tribune. "You need good veterans around to be successful. But it was a decision they made." [12]

On the same day the Sonics miraculously drew the second pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and the rights to prodigal forward Kevin Durant, Bennett was in Kansas City exploring arena options to move the team. He has no respect for the city of Seattle and its thousands of loyal Sonics fans.

It is now abundantly clear that Bennett only wanted to rob Sonics fans from the start, with no regard for the team's history and 41 years of support. A great NBA owner builds ties with the community; he doesn't sever them and then pour salt on the wounds.

When Mark Cuban purchased the struggling Dallas Mavericks in 2000, he invested heavily in the team and the city, building the franchise into a dominant force and a pillar of the community. Other NBA owners have also made sizable investments in their host communities, strategically developing political and business relationships to help secure public funding for arenas. Prior to filing for relocation, Bennett spent only a few months actively attempting to secure a local arena. During this period, he failed to evaluate the political landscape or engage the fan base, refusing to hold a single meeting with the Seattle mayor's office to discuss options within the Seattle city limits. Bennett never employed a local advertising agency, and he never took reasonable steps to convey a hopeful message to the general public and fans. The Sonics have not made even a pretense of looking for local options since May of 2007.

As business partners, it is appropriate for NBA owners to expect a somewhat equitable effort on the part of all parties. Owners in markets such as New Jersey, Sacramento and Orlando worked hard in recent attempts to secure venues, but Sonics ownership is attempting to shortcut the process and put its own interests above that of the league as a whole by engaging in a high publicized legal battle to void the final years of its lease. As part of this process, the Bennett ownership group has risked the goodwill of the fans and publicly stated that NBA teams bring no value to this community.

A legitimate local ownership group would be willing to work with the city and find a constructive solution to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

5. The New Orleans Hornets are Struggling to Survive

In the wake of the tragedy Hurricane Katrina inflicted upon the city of New Orleans, the Hornets were transplanted to Oklahoma City, where fans embraced the team for two seasons. As New Orleans rebuilds, the Hornets moved back to play at New Orleans Arena at the start of the 2007-08 season.

(Save Our Sonics would never want to deny New Orleans fans their team or encourage a Hornets move to save our own team. We do, however, see the need to present the following facts so NBA interests can make the most informed decision possible on this matter.)

At the time this letter was pressed, the Hornets held a record of 33-15, good for second best in the tough Western Conference. Yet the team is second to last in the league in attendance, drawing a meager 12,453 fans per game on average,[13] a number that is further inflated by free tickets given away within a business model that relies heavily on subsidies. This is a young, exciting team with an MVP candidate in Chris Paul, but the city cannot seem to rally behind them as it has for the NFL's Saints before and after Katrina.

The Hornets recently signed a lease that allows them to relocate after the 2009-2010 season if they fail to reach an average attendance benchmark of 14,735 through that portion of the contract.[14] At this rate, there is no doubt that attendance will be lower than this figure, and the Hornets will be looking for a new home in 2010, conveniently also when the Sonics lease at Key Arena officially expires.

The Sonics, by contrast, are the third worst team in the NBA at 13-36, yet they are only fifth-worst in attendance figures, averaging 13,476 fans despite widespread doubt that the team will even play in Seattle past 2008. This Sonics team, without its two recognizable All-Stars − and with out-of-town ownership insulting the community while publicly facilitating the OKC move ¬− still outdraws the Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Hornets on a nightly basis. More importantly, Key Arena is filled to 79.3% capacity each night versus 65.8% in New Orleans − this figure also puts the Sonics ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats (74.7%), Minnesota Timberwolves (77.8%), and New Jersey Nets (76.1%) in attendance.

Make no mistake about it: Seattle is a basketball city and Washington is a basketball state, with such NBA stars as Brandon Roy, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Marvin Williams, Martell Webster, Luke Ridnour, Spencer Hawes, John Stockton, Detlef Schrempf, Michael Dickerson, Aaron Brooks and Doug Christie having grown up in the area. By voting to allow Seattle's longest running professional team to move, owners are denying themselves a city full of talent and potential billions in financial support. This is the city that set NBA attendance records by drawing more than 39,000 fans to a 1979 game in the Kingdome.[15] This is the city that rocked for the Sonics throughout the 1990s, as teams led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp dominated for much of the decade.

Recent NBA team moves and expansions to smaller markets have unequivocally failed financially (Vancouver to Memphis, Charlotte to New Orleans). If Oklahoma City has truly earned an NBA franchise, however, it makes sense to either grant it an expansion team (SOS's preferred solution) or move the Hornets, only since the latter is likely to move and already won the adoration of OKC fans.

The battle for the Sonics is still in U.S. District Court, which set a date of June 16, 2008 to hear the case - right in the middle of the NBA Finals. In light of recent scandals (Tim Donaghy and Malice at the Palace), the NBA cannot afford this bitter fight causing another public relations disaster, which would only soil its credibility and evoke outrage from disrespected fans around the nation. The NBA is a business, but this business can only be run with the full trust and support of its paying customers - the fans.

Please carefully consider the above arguments when casting your vote on the Seattle SuperSonics relocation issue. The facts are clear: Seattle has earned its team through decades of loyal support, and fans deserve more than Bennett has given them. If the involved parties swallow their pride and sit down at the negotiation table, a reasonable agreement to keep the team in Seattle can surely be reached. Key Arena is a beautiful venue for fans to watch basketball, and an efficient remodel can implement the proper revenue streams for ownership to profit financially in this top quality market.

Feel free to contact our organization with any questions on this matter. Vote "No" on a Sonics to Oklahoma City move this April. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincere regards,

Adam Brown - &nbspBrian Robinson - Steven Pyeatt
Media Advisor Co-Founder Co-Founder
(206) 919.3778 (206) 349.6447 (206) 276.6708

"(Clay Bennett) doesn't care if the Supersonics are Seattle's most successful and storied franchise. Or that the team has 40 years of history and heritage and Hall-of-Famers. Or that the league will suffer greatly if a franchise moves from one of its most cultured and cosmopolitan markets to - - - Oklahoma City! Good lord, this is like the Rockettes leaving Radio City Music Hall for their new permanent home at the Mystery Dinner Theatre on I-Drive!"

- columnist Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, November 2007.

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